January 23, 2010

Building a Safe House for the Chemically Sensitive - That Means All of Us.

As I could not have written it better myself, today's posting excerpts an extremely helpful article written by Healthy House Institute pioneer John Bowers. "Are You Chemically Sensitive?" illustrates why healthy house building is not only important for those most affected, but for us all. (Graphics added by me.)

Are you sensitive to low levels of pollutants in the indoor environment? There are many people exhibiting symptoms at much lower pollution levels than the general population. This tells us that a safe level of exposure for one person is not safe for everyone. In reality, we all have a different degree of tolerability because we all have a unique physical body and a unique metabolism. Some individuals can smoke several packs of cigarettes a day and live disease-free for 80 years, but there are others who are negatively affected by very minor exposures to second-hand tobacco smoke. Most of us fall somewhere between these extremes of extraordinary tolerance and extreme hypersensitivity. Yet, we all may be bothered by the very same pollutants that affect hypersensitive people—but only after a longer period of exposure to a higher concentration.

Coal miners relied on canaries to warn them if air quality reached dangerously contaminated levels.

Hypersensitive people may act as early warning signs to the general population in the same way canaries warned coal miners of polluted air in the mines. Canaries are more susceptible than most people to air pollution. They were taken into the mines to help predict when the air reached dangerously contaminated levels. When the birds stopped singing and died, the miners knew it was time to seek fresh air. Today’s canaries may be the individuals who are more susceptible than the population at large. The rest of us should become aware of what bothers them because, the odds are, similar things could bother us as well. Their symptoms just show up immediately while ours may not manifest themselves for years.

Almost unheard of a generation ago, food allergies, along with other types of allergies, are dramatically on the rise. Photo: ID Me Labels.com.

Many people seem to be exhibiting more symptoms related to their environment than in the past. For example, allergies are much more common today than just 50 years ago, and sensitivities to formaldehyde and other VOCs are increasingly being recognized.

Our bodies are not adapting quickly enough to the health impacts of our modern technology.

This is likely related to the fact that the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe is totally different than the food, water, and air to which human beings have adapted over time. It seems our bodies are having difficulty adapting to an environment that is radically different from any other environment in human history. Our ability to change our surroundings has apparently outstripped our genetic ability to adapt to those changes.

Two or three generations of eating prepared foods, processed flour, and food additives have resulted in subtle changes to our bodies... According to one estimate, the average individual consumes at least one gallon of fungicides, bleaches, dyes, antibiotics, preservatives, moisturizers, and emulsifiers per year [“The Pariah Syndrome,”]. As a result of decades of eating less-nutritious foods and food additives, it seems our systems no longer have the stamina to resist the assaults of environmental pollutants.

Chemically-laden paints, varnishes, floor and carpet coatings, cabinetry and furniture finishes are found on virtually every surface of today's American home. Even after that new house smell is gone, toxic vapors are off-gassing for months or years.

The sad truth is that the air we breathe every day of our lives, both indoors and outdoors, is contaminated with chemicals that our genetic history has not prepared us for. This means our lungs must continually deal with an unnatural pollutant burden. This stress is occurring every minute of every day and it means our bodies have less ability to handle an acute pollution emergency. This constant exposure has resulted in people having less resiliency than they had in the past—and more illness. Much of this illness may be attributable to the toxic, allergenic, and carcinogenic materials we use to build houses...

The pollutants typically found in our homes can cause symptoms such as lack of coordination, dizziness, fatigue, nervousness, headaches, joint and muscle pain, abdominal pain, etc. According to the World Health Organization, the following are common symptoms of sick building syndrome: Irritation of eyes, nose and throat; dry mucous membranes and skin; erythema; mental fatigue; headache; airway infections; cough; hoarseness of voice; wheezing; unspecified hyper-reactivity; nausea; and dizziness.

To read John Bower's complete article, click here.

While this article points out the daunting challenges we all face, the good news is that it is possible to make healthy choices for virtually every material in your home. All it takes is good information, and the motivation to make it happen.

As a "canary" myself, I am deeply motivated to make it happen. It is rewarding to share what we learn along the way so that others can benefit from our work. In
prior and upcoming healthy house posts, you will find details on the many selections we have made to ensure the safest and healthiest environment in THE CONCORD GREEN HOME.


  1. Great post ~ thanks for sharing this info

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  3. In (DIY) home building everyone be aware of the importance of making sure that the house is safe for both the environment and our family. Indeed, we will face a lot of responsibilities; however there are ways of creating a safe home environment. Luckily, today there are several reliable do it yourself home kits that will guide every beginner.


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